The Irish Times /Ipsos MRBI poll published Tuesday, June 5, shows that Mass attendance in Dublin is about 11 per cent higher than figures released by the Dublin diocese.

Writing in the IT, Patsy McGarry says that “you can take it” that the Dublin figures are more accurate. However, his attempt to explain this disparity fails in my view.

Why exactly should we ‘take it’ that the financial people in Dublin are more accurate in their figures than MRBI, a professional polling organisation? Patsy argues that figures in censuses and polls tend to come back more positive but that the Churches don’t see these extra adherents on a weekly basis.

Protestants and Catholics of the cultural variety and not necessarily the practicing variety, which give a distortion to the number of adherents and the number of practicing adherents.

Yet while Patsy takes issue with his own poll’s figures for Dublin, he says that the poll is in line with last February’s Amarach survey on the figure of 34pc of Catholics in the Republic attending weekly mass.  So, basically, The Irish Times poll is right in every aspect except on the numbers for attendance in Dublin, according to Patsy. But this doesn’t stand up to any logical analysis.

We can agree that censuses figures are not a reflection of weekly church attendance but this does not answer why the IT poll is at variance with the figures of the Dublin diocese.

The IT conducted a poll, not a census count. If the MRBI figure is 11pc out, then what about all the other results it came up with? Are they out by 11pc too?

If the Dublin diocese is more accurate in its figures as Patsy maintains then why is The Irish Times bothering to publish an expensive poll that is just giving us unreliable data? Yet he says that some of its data is in line with earlier polls.

Patsy also suggests that his own paper’s poll “might be seen as marginally more positive than” an Amarach survey last October.

He goes on to say that an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll conducted in January 2010 after the publication of the Murphy Report had a more negative view of the Church then, which is understandable.

There is a wider point in all of this and I think my colleague over in The Irish Times, for whom I have a lot of professional respect, has missed it.

It is this: the negative attitude to the Church has hit the bottom of its downward trajectory. Mass attendance figures are stabilising at about one third of the Catholic populace. Yes, the nature of being a Catholic or Protestant, as Patsy says, is changing. But the crucial point is, and I am not engaging in propagandising by making this point although no doubt the charge will be levelled, the crucial point is that the picture is not as bad as we thought.

The figures in Dublin are better than we thought.  While Archbishop Martin often decries the low attendance in inner city parishes, many Dublin priests I know in suburban parishes have packed churches.

As a starting point to renewal, the Irish Church as it faces into the Eucharistic Congress has 84pc of the populace voluntarily declaring themselves Catholic. One third of the populace goes to weekly mass.

What The Irish Times poll shows, which has been shown in previous polls, is that there is a lot of ignorance of Catholicism among Catholics. Which raises the question what have Catholics been learning in Catholic schools, and gives the lie to the popular line that Catholic schools indoctrinate young people. Nothing could be further from the truth!

So yes we need to better understand our faith – and at least reject it based on knowledge rather than ignorance; and yes we need organisations like the ACP, We are Church and other embryonic movements, and yes we need the more conservative voices who urge caution in any attempt to drain the bathwater from underneath the baby.

In other words, as mass Catholicism is boiled down we are discovering some vibrancy, some vision, some energy, some hope.

For some bishops to stay away from the ACP meeting because of worries over ‘communio’ is bizarre. This is exactly where communion is possible.

As the Eucharistic Congress begins, let us dust ourselves off and say yes to growth, to humility and to seeing the Christian in the other.

Garry O'Sullivan is the editor of the Irish Catholic, Ireland's widest circulating Catholic newspaper.




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